Passenger jetliner breaks into pieces during hard landing in Russia

A Russian airliner attempting to land in heavy fog in the central Russian city of Samara came down short of the runway, scraped along the landing strip and overturned. Seven people died and at least 26 were injured, authorities and company officials said.

Prosecutors investigating the incident said they were considering bad weather and pilot error among the most likely causes of the crash.

The plane was a Tu-134 passenger jet belonging to the Russian airline UTAir, and the accident was sure to renew concerns about the aging plane model that is the workhorse of the Russian civil aviation industry and that transport officials had ordered gradually phased out. Experts say the jets are harder to land than modern aircraft, especially in bad weather.

The plane, carrying 50 passengers and 7 crew, had been en route from the Siberian city of Surgut to the western city of Belgorod with a stop in Samara, a city on the Volga river, about 900 kilometers (550 miles) southeast of Moscow.

Spokesman for the Emergency Situations Ministry Sergei Salov said on NTV television that seven people died and 26 were wounded, including three crew members. Prosecutors put the number of wounded at 31. Earlier, officials had said 51 people had been injured, but they later revised the figure, explaining that the others were being treated for psychological shock.

Russian television showed the plane's wrecked fuselage lying on thick snow several meters (yards) from the landing strip, its wings, tail and engine scattered about as rescuers worked to evacuate surviving victims and bodies of the dead and police searched for clues to the crash.

Yuri Naryshkin, spokesman for regional emergency authorities told NTV television the plane touched down before the landing strip, then plowed through the runway and overturned.

Earlier a local emergency official had said the plane landed on its fuselage after the landing gear failed to come down, according to Russian media reports.

Prosecutors probing the crash said in an official statement the plane touched down about 400 meters (yards) short of the landing strip. Regional prosecutor Alexei Kopylov told NTV television pilot error and bad weather were regarded as the primary causes of the crash.

The Rossiya television channel cited UTAir officials as saying that plane had been in good condition and was flown by an experienced pilot. A company spokeswoman reached by the Associated Press declined to provide any details about the plane's condition and age or the crew's experience, the AP says.

Emergency officials said they had retrieved the plane's flight recorders and would study them to determine what led to the crash, the Interfax news agency reported.

Passengers' relatives waited anxiously for news at airports in the three cities on the plane's route. A woman at a Belgorod airport told Rossiya state television that her daughter had been hospitalized with a spinal injury and her 2 1/2-year-old grandson was in a state of shock.

Tu-134s are widely used in the former Soviet Union. The last major crash of a Russian airliner was on Aug. 22, when a Tu-154 of Pulkovo Airlines crashed in Ukraine, killing all 170 people aboard.

Last month, Transport Minister Igor Levitin ordered the aging Tu-134 and Tu-154 models phased out of civilian use over the next five years. Russia ended production of Tu-134 planes in the early 1980s. Tu-154 jets are also no longer being built from scratch, but the existing ones are being upgraded with more modern parts.